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Both Sides Square Off on Green Hollow Square; the Debate Continues

The May 1, 2012 monthly meeting of the Brentwood Community Council focused entirely on the proposed Green Hollow Square (GHS) project. The agenda included presentations by Green Hollow Square, Saltair Neighbors and the Los Angeles Conservancy. Several individuals also spoke.

Before the meeting, several youngsters showed solidarity with GHS opponents, carrying homemade signs to protest the proposed development. They gathered in front of the Kaufman Library, where the BCC meets, and moved inside, as a group, just as the meeting was getting started.

The meeting began with a presentation by Joel Miller, from the GHS team. He explained the current status of the proposal, which has evolved over time. The current proposal calls for structures totaling 73,000 square feet. This is below the 105,000 square feet the developer, Charlie Munger, coulld develop “by right,†but above the 35,000 in structures that currently occupy the property.
The project, he said, would include a mostly underground parking structure with 427 spaces. This exceeds required parking by 102 spaces. Long “throats†at the entrance and exit would mitigate any cars waiting for parking spaces, according to Miller. The project will create 1,456 new daily trips, said Miller. Opponents say the true number is 2,400 trips. Miller also stated that there was no plan for traffic cut-through in the San Vicente median and the resulting removal of any coral trees.

Elin Schwartz and Wendy Sue Rosen presented the Saltair Neighbors position on the project. A slide showing gridlocked traffic and references to the removal of coral trees provoked impassioned cheers from their supporters. Schwartz and Rosen said the preservation of the historic Barry Building is an essential element in the preservation of the neighborhood.

Nancy Freedman, BCC chair, had her hands full keeping things civil. Opponents of the project were fairly vocal; at one point, they jeered Freedman for cutting off a presentation by Wendy Sue Rosen because of time limits. Freedman gave in and allowed Rosen more time.

Rosen said that the congestion resulting from the project would result in a cut in the median to alleviate resultant traffic trying to head east. Without a cut through the median, drivers will be forced to make a U-turn at Saltair and San Vicente, Bundy and San Vicente or Montana and San Vicente, depending on which direction motorists want to go.
If such a cut in the median strip is allowed now, she argued, that would degrade the landmark designation of the coral trees, making them vulnerable to similar requests from future developers.

Miller said after the meeting: “I don’t know why the opponents continue to think that Mr. Munger is proposing these changes. We only studied them in the EIR. If we were actually proposing them, we would have needed to file what is called a Specific Plan Exception with City Planning. We have not done so. I can only assume that the opponents are suffering from ‘motivated reasoning,’ a phenomenon that ignores the truth in the face of their erroneous beliefs.â€

Adrian Fine and Marcello Vovala represented the LA Conservancy. The Barry Building and Coral Tree Median are designated Los Angeles landmarks (Historic-Cultural Monuments #887 and #148, respectively). The Conservancy illuminated the cultural value of Mid-Century Modern architecture that was emblematic of the post-war era. It is extremely rare that such a historic designation would result in demolition or removal of a building or tree, according to these speakers. The Conservancy supports the sustainability of reusing the existing building within the project and retrofitting it to modern standards. They believe that preservation is a clear alternative to demolition, in direct opposition to the wishes of project owner, Charles Munger, who has made his disdain for the Barry Building clear.

Diane Caughey, architect and daughter of Barry Building architect Milton Caughey (1951), led the campaign for the designation. “It is a monument on the merit of its cultural and historic significance . . . for the benefit of future generations,†she said.

In the last Brentwood News, it was reported that Charlie Munger was exploring a preservation alternative with a new architect, Leo Marmol, but those talks fell through. They were “unable to agree on an alternative that adequately addressed the goals of all parties,†according to Joel Miller.

Though it would be physically possible to incorporate the Barry Building into a bigger project, said Miller, the Barry Building “does not meet contemporary commercial design standards nor does it meet city codes.†One idea proposed is to move the building to a different location. Said Miller: “Mr. Munger is making the Barry Building available to anyone who wishes to accept it.â€

Conservancy representatives said it would be possible to fix up the building, bring it up to code and make it more energy efficient. The idea of moving it is a “maybe,†they said.

Joaquin Macias, speaking for the office of Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, read a letter from the councilman stating that he wanted to hear all sides from the community before weighing in. The councilman is sympathetic to community concerns over preservation.
Respondents lined up and shared their views from the podium. Several opponents expressed their concern that Saltair was a “country road,†and could not sustain any additional traffic congestion. Opponents believe there will be a cut in the median that would render a blow to historic preservation of the coral trees and that their neighborhood would be severely impacted by the development.
Supporters were in the minority, at least at this meeting, with only three urging approval for GHS, noting negative, or at best, lukewarm, feelings towards the existing building. Some GHS supporters said after the meeting they were uncomfortable stating their position in front of antagonistic and angry neighbors.

With Munger opposed to retaining the original building, and the idea of moving the building to another location a distant and maybe even non-existent possibility, the outcome of all this is still wide open as deliberations enter the homestretch. Another meeting on Green Hollow Square was held May 8 at a meeting of the Brentwood Homeowners Association. At this meeting, results from a poll taken by BHA were revealed. Out of approximately 2,000 emails sent out, 545 responded. Respondents were evenly split on whether the Barry Building should be saved or not. The prospect of cutting through the San Vicente median to facilitate traffic also drew no clear winner.
But 63.8% suggested downsizing the Green Hollow Square proposal made sense; and 81% said BHA should work with the developer on achieving the right mix of retail on the property. 69% of those polled said they disagreed with the GHS proposal “as is.†Given the option of incorporating the Barry Building into some new structure, 38% said “yes,†55% said “no.†41% said they agreed Brentwood needs new shops; 54% disagreed.

Robert Rene, president of BHA, said the poll couldn’t be considered scientific — but it couldn’t be ignored, either.

An advisory vote was taken by the BCC Thursday, May 10. Because there is no clear consensus on the Green Hollow Square project, it was decided to not vote to either support or oppose the project, but rather to focus on a list of conditions that would apply to any project ultimately decided upon.

On Monday, May 14, Bill Rosendahl released a statement before the Area Planning Commission outlining his views. Because the Brentwood News had just gone to press, highlights of his statement can be found on our website, www.brentwoodnewsonline.com.

NOTE TO READERS: As the Brentwood News was going to press, a May 14 Area Planning Commission meeting was about to be held to hear comments on the Green Hollow Square Project EIR. Please go to: www.brentwoodnewsonline.com to learn more about what happened at this meeting. The next issue of the Brentwood News will include information about this meeting and other developments with respect to Green Hollow Square.

Milton Caughey, the architect who designed the Barry Building


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